Everything You Need To Know About Refrigerant Safety And Your HVAC
In an ideal world, the ideal refrigerant would have the desire thermodynamic properties, it would be non flammable, nontoxic, and environmentally benign, and it would be stable in the HVAC system. It should also be compatible with the materials used to make HVAC components. However, such an ideal refrigerant does not exist (at least not yet).
Even moving forward, the likelihood of developing the ideal refrigerant is quite small. As such, you can rest assured that refrigerants tend to have compromises in their properties. This means that the scientists who develop the refrigerants that we use today try as much as possible to balance all these needs but something has to give. In many cases, we end up with a chemical that has hazards.
Fire Hazard Emanating From Refrigerants
Flammability is the ability that any substance has to ignite or burn, thereafter causing combustion or causing a fire. It is determined by 2 chemical properties- its vapor pressure and the flash point. The flash point is the lowest temperature sufficient for a substance to evaporate and form a mixture that is ignitable. On the other hand, vapor pressure is the evaporation rate of a substance. When a substance has a higher vapor pressure, it tends to have a lower flash point, which in turn makes it highly flammable.
Due to the chemical mixtures of refrigerants, each refrigerant has its own flammability properties. This means that every refrigerant is flammable to a certain extent, with some being more flammable than others.
In reality, everything is toxic to some extent. What matters, though, is the lowest concentration of substance for it to be toxic to human and animals. In this regard, substances that pose a grave danger to humans and animals while in small quantities are considered to be more toxic, and, therefore, more dangerous. On the hand, safe substances require a very large amount or high concentration to be toxic.
The same case applies to refrigerants. Some refrigerants are inherently less toxic to human beings as they require to be in high concentrations of large amounts to pose a health risk. On the other hand, there are refrigerants that pose grave danger to human beings even in the small concentration. For instance, the refrigerants that were used before Freon was introduced in the 1920s and 30s were very toxic and had huge negative health impacts.
With regards to toxicity, there are two types of toxicity risks- acute and chronic risks. The acute toxicity is the toxicity arising from exposure to high concentration of refrigerants in a short span of time. This type of hazard can arise due to high exposures during opening of the compressor or when removing the gaskets. It can also occur due to a failure leading to large-scale leakage of the refrigerant. Chronic toxicity is the type of toxicity that arises from repeated exposure to refrigerant over a long period of time. Both types of risk can be mitigated by following the best safety protocol and using the safety equipment.
Another hazard to keep in mind is the environmental one. Since refrigerants are chemicals, they will interact with the atmosphere when they find their way to the atmosphere. The longer the compounds that make up a refrigerant are able to stay in the atmosphere, the longer they have time to interact with the air and cause harm. This was the main demerit with Freon. In the 1970s, scientists determined that Freon did not break down easily or fast enough and instead stayed in the atmosphere for longer. This meant it found its way to the stratosphere where it interacted with the ozone layer, causing its depletion. It causes the breakdown of the three oxygen molecules, a reaction with diminishes the ozone layer, thereby making it less effective to absorb the infrared radiation from the sun. it for this reason that it is being phased out.
Pointers To Follow For Enhanced Safety
#1. Hire A Licensed And Certified HVAC Technician
With all risks that refrigerants come with in mind, it should go without saying that you should a HVAC professional and not just any guy who has some experience in repairing appliances. There is a danger in assuming just because someone is good in handling repairs for other appliances that they will be capable of handling HVAC repairs. In most cases, electrical appliances not trained to handle HVA system are not able to handle HVAC system safely.
This means that trusting your HVAC system to untrained individuals comes with a slew of complications and there is a high risk of accidents occurring. As such, always hire professionals to do your refrigerant replacement, who are not only certified and licensed but also insured.
#2. Only Opt For A HVAC Technician With Impeccable Reputation
Even more important, you should hold your contractor to the highest levels of professionalism and service, with a particular insistence on utmost safety. Refrigerants should be handled with utmost safety and, therefore, the individuals handling these chemicals should be well trained and experienced. As such, right from the start, you should only deal with HVAC technician who have a reputation of rendering high-quality services that are not only customer-centric but also safety conscious.
#3. Take Active Measures To Prevent HVAC Related Accidents
Whether you are running a HVAC system at home or on your business premises, you should take active steps to mitigate any risk arising from the presence of a HVAC system. In this regard, make sure that the environment that houses the system is inherently safe, well lit and with efficient means of access. Also, place warning labels and or on signs on appliances that use refrigerant to caution untrained individuals from tampering with the appliances.
Furthermore, make sure you restrict access to HVAC system. Finally, you should have safety equipment just in case of an emergency. In a business environment, there should be an eye wash station nearby. In a residential environment, there should a fully stocked first-aid kit.
Keeping all these safety considerations in mind should keep you and your property safe.